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Executive Leadership: Helping Others Helps Us
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Executive Leadership: Helping Others Helps Us - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Helping Others Helps Us

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Helping Others Helps Us

When you interact with people who work above you, for you, and alongside you, are you more of a giver, a taker, or a matcher? Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, says that we can all be grouped into one of these categories. Those of us who seek to come out ahead in our exchanges with others are takers; those who are concerned primarily with acting in others’ best interest are givers; those who seek equal benefactor-beneficiary footing are matchers.

Of givers, takers, and matchers, Grant reveals in Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Viking Press, 2013) that givers are often the least successful in their fields. Givers often spend so much time and energy helping others that their own work suffers, or they offer the kind of help that backfires when others leverage their help in order to get ahead. Perhaps this is no surprise. Grant refers often to “doormat syndrome,” the tendency for givers to be taken advantage of at their own professional and personal peril.

Yet it isn’t takers, those who “help each other strategically” when the benefits to them outweigh the costs, who lead their fields. Nor is it the matchers, who seek the classic quid pro quo in their dealings. No, the most successful people in many fields, including engineering, medical school, and sales, are also the givers. “The worst performers and the best performers are givers,” writes Grant. “Takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle.”

How and why givers are more likely to lead their fields are the thrust of the first half of Grant’s book. Givers form better, stronger networks, he says. When a taker succeeds, someone else is usually on the losing end, a result that seldom draws the involved parties together. But when a giver helps someone else succeed, a feeling of goodwill is germinated, and as those affected spread the goodwill, the network is fortified and expanded, often resulting in greater opportunities for everyone somewhere down the road, whether those opportunities are actively pursued or not.

Grant cites other examples of a giving temperament, with impressive research to underscore his assertion that giving behaviors in the workplace are in everyone’s best interest. How successful givers avoid becoming doormats for others to wipe their shoes on makes up a significant portion of the book’s second half. Some of it has to do with communicating in a non-threatening way, some of it with fostering in others a giving spirit, and some of it with filtering out the advantage-grabbers.

Among his most compelling illustrations is something called a Reciprocity Ring, where participants are encouraged to ask for help from the group with any pressing personal or professional problem. Because one person with a problem is likely to be helped when there are twenty to thirty listeners, the cost to the group as a whole can be small, while the benefit to the one can be enormous. As problems are brought up and solutions proposed, an atmosphere of giving is nurtured, and it is preserved as takers and watchers shift toward more giver-like behavior.

Grant concludes with several specific pieces of advice for givers as they strive to give effectively, and several more for takers and matchers interested in shifting their mentalities toward more altruistic goals. When greater and greater numbers of us, professionally and publicly, make more of an effort to help others, everyone ends up better off, and who doesn’t want to work in a place like that? And who doesn’t want to live in a world like that?


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